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Delivering ECED Programmes In Refugee Contexts: Reflections From A Recent Convening

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Delivering ECED programmes in refugee contexts: Reflections from a recent convening

GSF attended the inaugural refugee convening organised by The Hilton Foundation in Uganda. The 3-day event saw a gathering of The Foundation’s regional partners working to support refugees in Uganda and Ethiopia, especially in the areas of early childhood education and livelihoods. The event saw a diverse set of participants ranging from policymakers and researchers to refugee-led organisations (RLOs), international NGOs (INGOs), local implementation organisations, and groups championing innovative childcare financing.

Attending this event in Uganda held significant meaning. The country is known to host the highest number of refugees and asylum seekers in Africa and having progressive refugee policies. In Uganda, refugees can work, move freely, and access public services including primary and secondary schools. This is unlike many other hosting countries in Africa. However, while access to services is provided, it does not mean that the services are always completely free. For example, parents in Uganda often have to support the cost of books, writing materials, school meals, and uniforms, which prohibits them from enrolling children in schools. Given this, the Government focuses on self-reliance for refugees, especially as international aid is becoming increasingly limited, and the continuous influx of new refugees is putting a strain on the already limited resources of the country.

Amidst this background, the Convening provided a platform to delve deeper into some of the pressing themes like the policy contexts of refugee hosting countries, gaps in the childcare market, innovative solutions to address the childcare crises, and ways to amplify refugee voices. In this blog, GSF's Priyanka Upreti shares 5 main take-aways from the conference:

1. A two-generation approach – which aims to address the well-being of both children and their primary caregivers– is necessary to bring long-lasting change in emergency settings. This approach is rooted in the perspective that the well-being of caregivers and children is deeply interlinked. Enhancing parents' economic stability, mental health, and physical safety directly benefits children's development. Conversely, concerns for a child's well-being impact adults' livelihood opportunities. The absence of quality, affordable, and accessible childcare often compels parents, especially women, to stay at home resulting in financial setbacks. Organisations like BRAC, Norwegian Refugee Council, International Rescue Committee, and Village Enterprises have been implementing programs using the two-generation model in Uganda to improve lives of both young children and adults.

2. Provisions for childcare services using a two-generation approach ensure quality education for young children while broadening opportunities in the labor market for women. Organisations in this space are working on two types of models to deliver childcare through a two-generation model. During the Convening, Kidogo and Tiny Totos shared about their social franchising models used in informal settlements. Both programs equip local women to launch childcare micro-businesses, providing them with stable sources of income. For the children, the model ensures high quality of education by providing training to caregivers on best practices for early childhood education, the health & nutrition of children, and the safety of facilities. Indirectly, the program supports other women in the community to work, by providing safe childcare spaces for their children.

Other organisations like Mercy Corps work through a public-private partnership model, which is being piloted to lower childcare provision costs. The program uses surplus space in public institutions to reduce rental fees. Mercy Corps is also advocating with employers to integrate childcare centers into industrial parks, manufacturing centers, and other labor-intensive areas.

3. Ensuring high-quality childcare in crisis situations necessitates a multi-sectoral approach, focusing on health, nutrition, security, early learning opportunities, and responsive parenting: The early years of a child’s life present a crucial window to positively influence their development, but children in crises, are deprived of learning opportunities and essential stimulation. To support young children in emergencies, the Convening highlighted the 'Nurturing Care’ guidelines to be essential. The framework underlies five indivisible domains: good health, adequate nutrition, safety and security, responsive caregiving, and opportunities for early learning. However, it was also highlighted that to date, the integration of nurturing care domains of early learning and responsive caregiving has been the weakest when compared with other domains.

Within nurturing care domains of early learning and responsive caregiving, there are a few emerging areas that require urgent attention to improve the quality of childcare. First, there is a need to incorporate play-based learning in early education to help children cope and recover in emergencies. There is also a scope to improve psycho-social support for primary caregivers, specifically as a caregiver's well-being impacts their ability to provide responsive parenting for young children. Lastly, a gap exists in easy-to-use monitoring tools to measure the quality of learning in emergency contexts.

4. Delivering successful childcare services in emergencies requires overcoming critical governance gaps such as poor data quality, absence of coordination amongst governmental bodies, and financing. It is apparent that poor quality of data on young children and caregivers living in emergencies is a persistent challenge that impacts the programming of early childhood services. Participants expressed that it is challenging to accurately discern the number of refugee children using childcare centres within settlements since these centres cater to both host and refugee communities.

There was also resonance regarding splitting responsibilities amongst the various government bodies catering to young children in crises. Many NGOs highlighted that the coordination across departments makes it harder for them to provide quality support to children and caregivers in a timely manner during emergencies.

Financing for childcare was articulated as another substantial challenge. Early childhood services often rely on private funding or household contributions. An added issue has been the declining share of funding for childcare and early education in emergencies. Innovative financing mechanisms can play a role in filling the gap. Organisations like Instiglio, FINCA, Open Capital, and ACCION are working in this area, using a two-generation approach.

5. Empowering Refugee-Led Organisations (RLOs) to lead programs in emergencies is crucial for fostering ownership, ensuring cultural relevance, and enhancing sustainability beyond international aid. The increased influx of refugees has strained host countries, making it imperative to engage and support RLOs for cost-effective, and sustainable solutions. During the Convening, RLOs like RELON, YARID, and AYAN advocated for increased refugee participation in program and policy development, especially those that impact them. They noted that while progress has been made, the level of involvement remains far from ideal. It was highlighted that representation in decision-making processes, especially for women and disabled refugees, has also been lacking. There is an urgent need to shift the dialogue on localisation, which has primarily been confined to the national level or with local host organisations, to include RLOs more comprehensively.

In the coming months, GSF will launch an Evidence Hub in Early Childhood Education and Development (ECED) for Emergencies. This platform will offer tools, resources, and guidance to assist locally-led practitioners in effectively implementing ECED interventions during emergencies. For more information, write to

Additional Resources:

  1. Nurturing Care Framework:
  2. Two-generation Approach by The Conrad N. Hilton Foundation:
  3. UNICEF’s report on Childcare in Humanitarian Crises:

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